Just a little

Co-owner Ruben Estrada holds a sample of the Platillo Mexicano, which features steak, shrimp, a chile relleno and more.

Co-owner Ruben Estrada holds a sample of the Platillo Mexicano, which features steak, shrimp, a chile relleno and more.


Cielito Lindo is open Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Learn more at cielitolindoreno.com.

Cielito Lindo” or “Little Sweet One” is a long-popular mariachi song, its familiar “ay-ay-ay-ay” refrain intrinsically associated with Mexico. It is also the name of a small, family-run eatery, nearly hidden in its strip mall corner location. Although the room was sparsely occupied on a weekday evening, it took well over an hour before my party of eight, including friends and family, had a plate on the table. Apparently, the kitchen is understaffed and could seriously use more hands.

Complimentary chips and an enjoyably hot, smoky chipotle salsa were augmented by fresh guacamole prepared tableside ($6.99). Our server imperfectly squashed one and a half avocados with a large kitchen spoon, mixed with chopped tomato, onion, cilantro, and lime juice. The result was fairly bland and a bit too rustic for our taste, so my son fork-mashed it further, adding salt, pepper, more lime and some salsa.

My friend’s burrito supreme ($10.99) was a foot-long beast made with a pair of large, interleaved flour tortillas stuffed with refried beans, rice, tomato, onion, jack cheese and shredded chicken. While it was fairly mild on its own, the addition of salsa and sour cream hit the spot. Another friend’s slightly smaller, wet burrito al pastor ($9.99) slathered in mild green sauce and melted cheese was better, with particularly moist and flavorful pineapple pork.

My daughter-in-law ordered three tacos &#;agrave; la carte ($1.99 each)—chorizo, al pastor and carnitas. The meats were tasty and plentiful, dressed with onion and cilantro and carrot, with lime and serrano pepper on the side. Her son made quick work of a sope ($2.99), its thick, lightly fried corn tortilla topped with plenty of beans, lettuce, cotija cheese, sour cream and shrimp. That boy does love his seafood, helping out with my shrimp-loaded coctel de camaron ($9.99, small), and mojarra frita ($12.99), a whole fried tilapia served with rice and beans. Getting around the bones can be a bit tricky, but it’s worth it.

A pair of just-crispy-enough pupusas ($2.50 each) were filled with pork and cheese and accompanied by the requisite curtido (pickled cabbage slaw) and a very mild salsa roja—a decent example of the Salvadoran favorite. But the Platillo Mexicano ($16.99) combination of bistec asado con cebolla, chile relleno and shrimp a la diabla, with rice, beans and a simple ensalada was the dish to be envied. The beef and onions were tender, the shrimp spicy but not overdone, and the relleno was large and loaded with cheese and doused in an excellent suiza sauce rather than ranchera. We resorted to dipping chips in that plentiful, delicious sauce.

A trio of fajitas ($13.99) included chicken, steak and shrimp came with bell pepper and onion. It was perhaps the only real letdown. The meats and veggies were overcooked and the seasoning bland. Frankly, it was surprising given the quality of the other dishes we sampled. Much better was birria de res ($12.99) with rice and beans. Birria is traditionally made with goat or mutton, but this hearty stewed beef version was a great alternative—reminiscent of my grandma’s Sunday pot roast, substituting arroz y frijoles refritos for potatoes and carrots.

Finally, we ordered a huge bowl of menudo ($11.99), the “Mexican stew that cures everything.” More often featured as a weekend special, these folks offer the long-simmered blend of beef tripe and rich, red chile broth seven days a week. It was a little greasy and a lot spicy, and the tripe was tender and a little fatty. It might not be for everyone, but my son and I found it utterly satisfying.